It is estimated there are 22 veteran suicides every day. This number originated from the VA’s 2012 first suicide report that analyzed service member deaths from 1999 to 2011. With this first report a Strategic Plan for Suicide Prevention was identified in a public health framework that encompassed three major components: surveillance, identification of risk and protective factors, and development of effective prevention interventions. Upon release of the initial report numerous campaigns, both within the military community and the civilian sector, began to materialize to combat the 22 a day. Community awareness stepped forward offering numerous programs in assisting our veterans in combatting the demons of PTSD.

As we explore 22 a day more closely, we sadly discover the numbers have not decreased.

We now see an increase among younger male veterans and female veterans in comparison to their civilian counterparts. It is important to understand there is no single path to suicide. In addition, there is not a single medical cause, etiology, or treatment or prevention strategy.

As mentioned, community awareness will increase the chances of connecting veterans to much-needed resources. Two Massachusetts men, Josh Milich, 29, Coast Guard, of Somerset, and Brian Tjersland, 52, of Dartmouth, are running 500 miles to raise money and awareness for 22 a day. Their goal is to collect $100,000 for Mission 22, a national non-profit organization that combats the rising veteran suicide rate through three programs: veteran treatment programs, memorials and national awareness.

Mission 22 wants to bring these suicides to zero. Mission 22 provides treatment programs to veterans for post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and other issues they might be facing. The ultra-runners, Josh and Brian, started their trek on Veterans Day and estimate it will take 10 to 14 days to reach Arlington National Cemetery, their finish line.

Mental first aid training

The Westerly Education Center is spearheading our town’s commitment to train 1 in 10 adults in Mental Health First Aid. The training is available to any veteran, servicemember or family member living or working in Washington County or any person serving the veteran, and participants are eligible to take the course at no cost.

These nationally recognized, evidence-based courses are made possible by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and are offered by Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds Washington County in collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Health. The course will teach participants how to apply the ALGEE action plan: Assess for risk of suicide or harm; Listen nonjudgmentally; Give reassurance and information; Encourage appropriate professional help; and Encourage self-help and other support strategies. We each need to do our part to help our veterans.

The training is Monday, Dec. 2, and Wednesday Dec. 4, from 5:30 to 9:45 p.m. at the Westerly Education Center, 23 Friendship Street, Room 101. To register for the course or obtain additional information, e-mail Faith Hanson at faith.hanson@riopc or call 401-584-4931. Participants must complete the entire course to become certified. Certification can be renewed online every 3 years.

Since 2008 over 150,000 individuals have been trained in Mental First Aid. For additional information visit “Mental Health First Aid helps people know that mental illnesses are real, common and treatable, and that it’s OK to seek help.”

The Mental Health First Aid for Veterans co-trainer is Jeanne M. Sherman-Pierce, MEd, CAGS, LMHC, a readjustment counseling therapist at the Warwick Vet Center, treating combat-theater veterans, focusing on couples and family therapy. She is certified to train Mental Health First Aid USA and conducts a Caregiver Group for family members who care for their disabled loved ones. Jeanne has over 25 years’ experience in cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma treatment, crisis intervention, couples, family, educational and employment counseling.

Jeanne served on active duty for five years, was a member of the Women’s Army Corps and has lived and worked in the military environment for over 30 years.

Rally for Women Warriors

Attention all Rhode Island female veterans: You are urged to attend Rally for Women Warriors on Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. in Conference Room 3 of the Providence VA Hospital.

It was recently learned that Rhode Island alone has over 5,200 female veterans. Many of these women have very little knowledge about services that are available throughout the Ocean State. The purpose of this event is to foster interaction and communications among the female veteran population of our great state.

VIPs who will be in attendance are Kasim Yarn, director of Rhode Island Veterans Affairs, Senators Camille Vella-Wilkinson and Elaine Morgan, and Dr. Susan MacKenzie, director of the VA Hospital. For further information, contact Dora Vasquez-Hellner at 401-212-6377.

New commissary, exchange access delayed for many vets

Disabled veterans and Purple Heart recipients won’t see on-base access for commissaries and exchange stores or some recreation options any time soon, according to new guidance issued Wednesday by the Defense Department.

“On Jan. 1, 2020, only veterans with a secure, scannable VA-issued VHIC will be authorized access to in-person commissary, military exchange and morale, welfare and recreation privileges on DoD and Coast Guard installations,” it states. “When DoD and VA identify a credentialing solution for all veterans eligible under the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, DoD will roll out a new phase of access to accommodate current veterans who are not eligible to obtain a VHIC but are eligible for these privileges.”

For further information, visit pay-benefits/2019/11/13/ januarys-new-military- shopping-benefit-delayed- for-tens-of-thousands-of-veterans/.

Project Outreach

The mission is to assist all veterans to have access to the VA and eligible for all benefits and programs they offer. The program is staffed by certified chapter service officers that have attended the yearly Disabled American Veterans training. The service officer provides the proper VA forms and guidance to properly complete them to then ensure that they have proper representation at the VA. If a veteran is not in the VA system, he/she or their family are not eligible for all the great services and benefits the VA offers.

The hours are: VFW Post 8955, first Wednesday and third Monday of each month, 5 p.m.; Senior Center, second Tuesday of each month, 11 a.m.; Westerly Town Hall, last Friday of the month, 10 a.m.

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